The True Lord’s Prayer, A Prayer for Unity

He prayed that we might be one.

By Published on January 31, 2015

It’s Not What You Thought It Was!

The true Lord’s Prayer is given in John 17. Most people commonly call the prayer in Matthew 6:7-14 “The Lord’s Prayer,” but that prayer is one our Lord could never pray for Himself. One of its petitions asks the Father to “…forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:11), or, as Luke’s version puts it, “…forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Jesus could never pray this prayer because we know from Hebrews 4:15 that our Lord was without sin.

The prayer in Matthew is thus for us to pray, not for Him. Jesus gave us this prayer when one of the disciples asked Him to teach them (and us) how to pray (Luke 11:1).

Also, the personal pronouns in Matthew’s prayer, the second person plural “our,” differs from the personal pronouns in John 17; in that latter prayer, the first person singular pronoun, “I,” as well as the pronouns “me” and “mine” occur frequently (57 times in 22 verses) which means that this latter prayer is a prayer that only Jesus could pray. This prayer, then, the prayer in John 17, should rightly be called “The Lord’s Prayer,” whereas the prayer in Matthew should rightly be called “The Model Prayer.”

The Prayer’s Setting

The John 17 prayer occurs at the end of an extended sermon to the disciples at some point during the last supper. This sermon occurs in chapters 13-17. A brief survey of this sermon is essential in understanding the Lord’s Prayer. John 13:1 sets the stage for this final set of instructions to his own:Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus would be crucified the next day during the preparation for the Passover at the very time the lambs would be slaughtered in the Temple.

In this final sermon, Jesus in chapter 13—

  • illustrates His own servanthood to the disciples by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20);
  • gives his disciples the new commandment to love one another (John 13:31-34); and
  • predicts Peter’s betrayal (John 13:36-38).

In chapters 14 and 15, Jesus—

  • declares that He is the way, the truth and the life, and no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6);
  • promises that he would send the Holy Spirit as the instructor, comforter and advocate after He no longer physically walked with them upon the earth (John 14:15-31; 15:26-27; 16:1-14);
  • teaches that one’s fruitfulness depends upon one being a branch that received its life and sustenance by abiding in Him, the vine (John 15:1-17); and
  • predicts that the world would hate the disciples as it had hated Him (John 15:18-25).

And in chapter 16—

  • He predicts that the disciples’ impending sorrow would turn to joy (John 16:1-23).
  • And just prior to Jesus’ prayer, Jesus reassures the disciples by declaring that He has overcome the world (John 16:25-33).

The Lord’s Prayer of John 17 is thus the capstone and culmination of Jesus’ last sermon.

The Parts of Jesus’ Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer of John 17, or The High Priestly Prayer as the English Standard Version calls it, can be divided up into three sections: (1) the section in which Jesus prays for Himself—17:1-5; (2) the section in which Jesus prays for his soon-to-be apostles—17:6-19; (3) the section in which Jesus prays for all his future disciples—17:20-26.

We can gain insight into the main theme or themes of this prayer by examining various recurring words that Jesus used. When we do, we discover that certain recurring words in this prayer predominate: “glory” as well as its others forms, “glorify” and “glorified” (8 times in 6 verses); “world” which appears 18 times in 13 verses in that his disciples are in the world but are not of the world; the verb “given” which appears 11 times in 9 verses; “word” (4 times in 4 verses), “words” (2 times in 2 verses), and Scripture (1 time); “Father,” which appears 6 times in 6 verses. The theme of Jesus’ prayer is that those whom the Father has given to Jesus might, in this world, reveal the glory of the Son as well as the glory of the Triune God in everything they think, say and do.

The theme is thus one of restoration. The cosmos was created to be a temple of the Triune God in which humankind, Adam and Eve, jointly comprising the image of God, would reflect the blessing of God, this blessing being God’s glory as manifested in the goodness of creation. They were to do this by populating the planet with godly children who, along with them, would lovingly subdue the planet in the same manner in which gardeners cultivate their gardens (Genesis 1:26-31). But Adam and Eve sinned through disobedience, and their mandate from God to populate the earth and to tend it as gardeners became supplanted by sin, greed and selfishness. God the Father through Jesus the Son is now in the process of reversing the fall of humankind by the atoning work of the Son and the transforming work of the Spirit.

This prayer of Jesus on the night He instituted the Lord’s Supper thus describes who we are and what we are to be about. We are to reflect the glory of the Son in our lives as we go about God’s ministry of restoration. We are to do this by ascribing honor to the Father and the Son, by celebrating and praising them by emulating the servanthood of Jesus as we go about our daily lives. We are to do this by being God’s agents of restoration and transformation.



How closely do your prayers match Jesus’ prayer here? Are you concerned with the Father’s glory, with the growth and maturity of other believers, with restoring the creation? See if you can incorporate some of these things next time you speak with the Father.

Originally published in The Colson Center: Christian Worldview Journal, August 25, 2014

Re-published with permission of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like the article? Share it with your friends! And use our social media pages to join or start the conversation! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MeWe and Gab.

Alert: Pray for Our Elected Officials
Bunni Pounds
More from The Stream
Connect with Us